Early literacy interventions seen as crucial in US


A White Paper from the National Academy of Education in the United States says that America is facing a growing literacy crisis. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which periodically assesses what America’s students know in a variety of subject areas, shows that the nation’s fourth and eighth graders have made only modest gains over the past 15 years in their ability to understand what they read, especially when confronted with texts in science, history, and other school subjects.

The Federal Intervention programme – ‘No Child Left Behind Act’– much in the news lately as President Obama makes education reform a major priority for his administration, makes closing achievement gaps an explicit goal, as  poor and minority children remain far behind their more advantaged counterparts. Perhaps most alarming is the nation’s persistent failure to help the rapidly growing number of English language learners to  gain the capacity to read well enough to learn complex subject matter.

More than one in five U.S. students speaks a language other than English in the home. About 3 million of those students, or 5 percent of all students in the U.S., speak English poorly. Literacy of course is far more than just reading words. To be literate means to fully comprehend the meaning of the words and to be able to analyze, interpret, and critique the message. Literate readers are able to extract knowledge and concepts from a text and talk and write about what they have learned, providing explanations grounded in the text.

Both reading and writing depend crucially on students’ developing their oral language—the words they can use appropriately, the sentences they can construct, and their participation in the give and take of argumentation. A large body of research in literacy development shows that, although explicit instruction in phonics and word identification is important, children also need to develop a rich vocabulary—which depends on opportunities to hear, read, and speak words, either at home or in school.

Research also confirms, according to National Academy of Education, that effective literacy instruction involves discussion that engages students, asks them to reflect, gives them opportunities to express their ideas, and allows them to ask questions. And the place to really make a difference and where interventions have the best returns, is in early years education. So the Academy believes that the   State and federal governments should increase investment in early education programs and make oral language development a primary focus of preschool. The United States should also make it a national priority to provide English language learners with targeted, conceptually rich language instruction starting in preschool and continuing until students are fully proficient in English.

The conclusion is that the federal government can make a valuable contribution in developing the language capacities of language minorities by investing in the development of curricula built around these methods and in providing professional development to teachers who will use them.


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